What Is Melatonin And Does It Help You Sleep Better?
Published | 6 min read
What is melatonin? Many Americans take this popular sleep supplement at night, but is it safe? Learn about the side effects and natural alternatives here.
In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, approximately 50 to 70 million Americans have an ongoing sleep disorder.
This can help regulate your sleep cycle. However, there are some things you should know if you plan to take it in supplement form.
Read on to learn the answers to questions such as “What is melatonin?” and “Is melatonin safe?” The answers might surprise you.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone found in many animals and plants. In humans, melatonin is synthesized in the brain’s pineal gland.
During conditions of low light, such as night-time, melatonin levels increase and signal our body to begin feeling sleepy.
When this happens, melatonin production may be interrupted, making it hard for you to fall asleep.
In these instances, a medical practitioner may prescribe exogenous or synthetic melatonin for short-term use.
Side Effects Of Melatonin
Melatonin crosses the blood-brain barrier and interacts directly and relatively quickly with your body. Labeling inconsistencies make overdosing a possibility with melatonin.
Clinical experts recommend that adults start with 1 mg and then increase it by 1 mg (not exceeding 10 mg) every week until they’ve reduced the time it takes to fall asleep.
Let’s look into the side effects of melatonin supplements.
Feeling sleepy or groggy during the day
Exogenous melatonin can make you tired during the day. Some users find that while melatonin helps them fall asleep, they may not necessarily wake up energized.
Feeling groggy is an indication that you may have overdosed.
Headaches and dizziness
Having a headache or dizzy spells is another side effect of melatonin supplementation. These side effects can get in the way of everyday living.
Dizziness can be an added risk, especially if your occupation involves driving or using machinery.
Vivid dreams or nightmares
Another possible side effect of melatonin usage is dreams that make you even more tired. While you may get seven or more hours of sleep with melatonin, it may not necessarily be quality sleep.
Agitation and bedwetting in children
Melatonin supplementation in children can make them more restless. Those who fall asleep too deeply may end up wetting their beds.
Take caution before giving melatonin to your child. Doctors generally recommend behavioral and other interventions first.
Taking too much can result in a condition called hypermelatoninemia. This is when your peak night-time melatonin levels are higher than normal.
Hypermelatoninemia has been associated with serious conditions like anorexia nervosa, hypogonadism, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Who Should Not Take It?
Melatonin supplements aren’t recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women as there aren’t enough studies to confirm their safety. One study also indicated that it could compromise sperm quality in men by decreasing sperm count and motility.
Best Natural Alternatives To Melatonin
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognizes the presence of melatonin in nature. Research revealed that melatonin is readily available in many TCM herbs at varying concentrations.
According to TCM physician Lee Shin Wei, TCM views sleep disturbances from the perspective of Excess or Deficiency:
Excess syndromes and symptoms
- Pathogenic Fire derived from Liver Stagnation: symptoms include being impatient, depressed, and anxious.
- Phlegm-Heat disturbance: Symptoms include dizziness, heart palpitations, and heavy limbs.
Deficiency syndromes and symptoms
- Fire derived from Yin (cold) Deficiency: Staying up late, feeling restless before bed, suffering from insomnia, feverish limbs and heart, and red tongue.
- Heart and Spleen Deficiency: Experiencing a lot of dreams, light sleep, heart palpitations, and forgetfulness.
- Timidness from Heart Deficiency: Being a light sleeper, getting easily scared.
Herbs and acupuncture
Many TCM herbs and formulations can help with sleep issues.
- Lotus seeds (lian zi), for example, can up-regulate GABA receptors in our body. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our nervous system.
- Many non-caffeinated herbal teas are also a good choice. Rooibos tea is a calming beverage that you can drink before bedtime. Research has shown that it is effective in lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Rooibos also contains magnesium, an important mineral that helps reduce insomnia in older adults.
- In addition to herbal medicine, acupuncture is another TCM modality that has effectively improved insomnia. A 2013 study demonstrated that acupuncture effectively improved sleep quality and decreased daytime dysfunction among 180 patients with primary insomnia.
Some acupoints that can be massaged to encourage sleep and relaxation are shen men (HT7), nei guan (PC6), bai hui (DUGV20), and an main (EX-HN16).
Physician Lee also reminds us of lifestyle habits that can help promote good sleep.
Like all synthetic compounds and drugs, taking exogenous melatonin
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